Ask your users

At MPOW, we had a meeting with a group of engaged and academically successful students this weekend, to talk with them about the libraries and how they interact with the libraries. They told us things that I’ll spend a lot of time thinking about, including:

  • They don’t read websites, they click on the links that will get them where they’re going. No one had noticed the news blog posts that are RSS-fed into our front page, because that’s not where they were going — so they don’t even look at the sidebar.
  • Metasearch across subject-related databases = exactly what they want, as long as it does relevance ranking. Too many search results isn’t an issue for them, since their info-gathering behavior is built on a Google-based model in which you evaluate results but expect the best to be near the top.
  • More than metasearch, they want a portal that they can log in to, and have content blocks that they modify and personalize. As in, Student A wants a JSTOR search box and a list of the books he has checked out with a prominent Library Hours announcement, while Student B wants the list of education websites that we have next to a metasearch box for teacher education resources and a schedule for the group study rooms.
  • They wouldn’t mind if we were in Facebook, just “not too much, so that it’s annoying.”
  • Everyone likes our group study area, but there were suggestions of “some plants, or more artwork, so it’s, like, just nicer.”
  • Everyone likes the (IMHO, godawful) square study carrels because “they block out the visual distractions”.
  • There was a general consensus that we need to do better outreach to non-library users — one student commented that she comes to the library to study, but had no idea we offered some services we mentioned, and she wishes she had known sooner.
  • Our signage needs updating.

Two hours, a home-cooked meal at a librarian’s house, and a LOT of valuable information gained. A lot.  While I could have guessed some of what they said, some of it would never have occurred to me.  I mean, seriously, those carrels, if you ask me, are horrid.  But they like them, and use them, and think they’re good.  Who knew?!

Try it at your place. See what you learn.


  1. Either you were on top of the elevator to install a wireless hub, or you have some sort of BASE jumping hobby that someone should probably be concerned about…

    Seriously, though, I would have said those carrels were the first thing we should change. But they like them.


  2. This is incredibly consistent with what I’ve heard from our patrons. We spend so much time on things that don’t interest them when really, what they want is to customize their own experience and have a single search box that will search everything in their area. I am pushing for metasearch at our library, but it’s a real uphill battle (in spite of the fact that even many faculty members want it!).

    What always gets me stuck is how to market our resources if they just don’t bother to read stuff. Do I have to walk around campus with one of those sandwich-board things advertising what the library has to offer? We did a contest to promote our IM Reference Service last year where we raffled off an ipod, and we hardly had any people enter (although we pasted fliers all over campus). If I can’t get their attention where a free iPod is involved, I really don’t know how to get them interested in anything else we have to offer.


  3. Matt, I don’t ever need to see my hair looking like that again, thankyouverymuch. 😉

    Meredith, I don’t know how to reach all our students, either. Our approach right now is to focus on reaching out to our high-achieving students — the ones who should, by all rights, be using our services heavily. (You can argue that they all should be using our services heavily, but our research-intensive honors students are a particularly low-hanging fruit in terms of outreach.) We’re hoping that through peer networking and the responses we got from this small group we can craft an approach that will resonate with that one group. And then we’ll try another group, and another… Because I’m at a loss, as well. None of what seems sensible to us seems to reach them, and we really want to reach them.


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